Reviewing your own writing from an editor’s perspective can be a challenge, even for experienced writers. Here are strategies that can help you bring fresh eyes to your own written work.

When you write, it can be easy to get caught up in the craft of wordplay and storytelling, colorful metaphors, and powerful images — and it can feel wonderful when that intensely focused creativity gains momentum.

But what happens when your narrative is sculpted or your draft complete? How do you step back, break away from the craftsperson point of view, and freshly evaluate your writing? Reviewing your own writing from an editor’s perspective can be a challenge, even for experienced writers, but there are ways to make the job easier. Here are just a few strategies that can help you bring fresh eyes to your own written work.

Switch to a different activity

“No matter what I’m working on, whether it’s creative writing or editorial, hitting a block happens,” says Southern California-based writer and editor Katie Kailus. “Stepping away for a bit, focusing on something else and then coming back and refocusing usually provides me with the clear mind and fresh eyes I need to continue.”

For Kailus, that “something else” could be a variety of activities — doing laundry, running an errand, or taking a stroll to the beach, for example. In your own creative and editorial process, experiment and see what non-writing activities give you the clear headspace you need to return to your work with fresh eyes.

Read something unrelated

If I start to feel spent on a writing project, I often pull up online newspapers and catch up on headlines. Reading whatever’s new on Humans of New York, Facebook, and Twitter can also provide a mental change of pace. Reading something unrelated to my own writing takes my head out of the subject matter and helps me look at everything with a clearer perspective when I return to it.

Use a different typeface

Years ago, I discovered that reading my own work in Arial made me see things differently than when I used Monaco or Andale. In fact, I was surprised by just how different my writing seemed when represented by even a moderately different font. When it comes time to review your own work, see if cycling through typefaces can help you get fresh eyes on what you’re trying to write.

“When I’m really stumped, printing out a copy of what I’m writing and reading and editing it on paper can oftentimes generate a completely different result than when I’m reading on screen,” Kailus says.

Use a different device

Reading your own work on your phone vs. your tablet vs. your laptop vs. the printed page may enable you to see new things in each context. For me, reading an article draft on my iPhone lets me more easily imagine myself as the final reader of the published article, rather than the person writing it, and evaluate and edit the piece accordingly.

Relocate

Sometimes the buzz and bustle of a coffee shop is just what I need to see my work with fresh eyes. Other times, the peace of a park bench is better. Changing your physical location can often give you the editorial distance you need to evaluate your work freshly, and as a whole.

Eat and drink

When I get deep into writing, I can lose track of time and push back eating and drinking for longer than I should. When I feel that a fresh perspective on my work is needed, I’ll often force myself to break away from the text, even if I’m on a roll, eat and drink, and then return with fresh energy. It’s enticing to ride a creative wave and power through for as long as possible, but when it comes time to engage with text from a fresh perspective, a nutritional break can make a big difference.

Change your (physical) point of view

I’ve interviewed a number of writers who find that their physical position – sitting, standing, walking – changes the way they interact with their words. I’ve found this to be true myself. If I’m at a point where a fresh look at my own work is helpful, a change in elevation may be all that’s needed.

Listen to music

There’s nothing like a little Mozart, metal, or Motown to break you out of a writing rut — especially if that music contains rhythms and language that are notably different than the text you’re crafting. By engaging your brain in a different way, music can help you reset and see your work with a beginner’s mind again.

Sleep on it

An editor of mine once told me that, after completing his final draft of any piece, he always waits to send it off or publish it until the next morning. He reviews it again, first thing, with coffee and fresh eyes, to see if any further changes need to be made. While I don’t do this with everything I write, it’s been a helpful tactic when I’ve needed it.

Read it out loud

Reading my text out loud to myself makes me see things in new ways — and having a friendly collaborator read it to me can be equally revealing. You never know what words or phrases your reading partner may choose to emphasize, or how that person’s recitation might make you see facets of your work you had never noticed.

Mix it up

The more challenging the piece of writing, the more times I’ll review it, and the more disparate tactics I’ll use to give myself a fresh look at it. Often, I won’t feel like a piece of writing is truly the best it can be until I’ve returned to it multiple times with fresh eyes and reviewed it in multiple different contexts.

How do you approach reviewing your own work with fresh eyes? Tell us in the comments below.

 

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Michael Gallant

About Michael Gallant

Michael Gallant has written 6 posts in this blog.

Michael Gallant is a writer, musician, composer, producer, and entrepreneur. He lives in New York City. Follow Michael on Twitter at @Michael_Gallant.

32 thoughts on “How To Read, Edit, and Evaluate Your Writing With Fresh Eyes

  1. Reading aloud is a huge one for me. It’s helped me catch a lot of awkward sentences that previously seemed fine.
    I’ll definitely try the typeface angle. Good stuff!

    1. Michael Gallant says:

      Thanks! Yeah, isn’t it funny how something can sound completely different coming out of your mouth than you expected it to?

      1. Larry Miller says:

        I’m a designer. What works for design works also for writing. Get it done. First draft or 100 rough sketches fast fast fast let it run.Then shove into a drawer (for metaphorical drawer) and don’t look at it till next day or better the day after that On design, the crap will be ovoious and the potentially good if there is any will also stand ut For writing, maybe the same on a shorter time horizon if necessary. Also, always fo what I am not nooks doing, always never let autocorrect correct mistyped words anas that vn really much things up. As you see. —Using a professional proofreader on projects that requite that is the best way.

    2. Linda S Rice says:

      I agree that reading out loud is one of the best ways to evaluate your work. I try to get two friends to listen while I read out loud and I can get their opinion at the same time I find things that need fixing.

  2. athletegai says:

    Thanks so much for the post.Really thank you! Keep writing.

    1. Michael Gallant says:

      Thanks for reading and for the kind words!

  3. Good tips! I especially like reading aloud, printing the pages, changing fonts, take a break of any sort and I also employ my associates (my teenaged son or my wife) to read to me–they’re not big fans of the process, but they love me. I’ve used the “read aloud” app on my computer, as well, but it’s not quite the same.

    1. Michael Gallant says:

      Great, I’m glad to hear that strategies like these are working for you. I’ve never tried having my computer read my work aloud myself, but it certainly sounds like an interesting experience….. Thanks for the kind words!

  4. Henry Orn says:

    Reading a piece in the same genre gives me fresh look at how to phrase my ideas, sentences and the entire story.

    1. Michael Gallant says:

      Good idea – I’ll give it a try.

  5. Diane Seufert Tait says:

    I print it out. Things pop out for me on a hard copy.

    1. Michael Gallant says:

      Same here.

  6. For proofing, try reading backwards. Takes concentration and you’ll likely focus on each word more.

    1. Michael Gallant says:

      Sounds like literary bench pressing. I’ll give it a try!

  7. Great article! Similar to changing fonts, I find it extremely helpful to set my stories or novel manuscripts into a book mock up, 6×9 format, a font and layout as you’d read in a finished book. I find lots of issues with narrative flow and dialogue, scene length, transitions, etc. that I can correct when my manuscript is set up like a finished book.

    1. Michael Gallant says:

      This is a really good idea – thanks for sharing.

  8. David Soubly says:

    Agree! Reading aloud for dialogue is an absolute must. Also, get a hold of Zinsser’s “On Writing Well.” Despite the subtitle suggesting its utility for writing nonfiction, it’s a gem when it comes to tightening prose in your stories.

    With a longer, more complex fiction work, where you intend for your reader to make discoveries, you may be trapped by what you already know vs. what your reader does. That can be tough to catch, unless you walk away (literally) for several days and then come back to the piece.

    I find paper editing is a must. I revise first on screen – especially when creating dialogue – then do a heavy paper edit a chapter or two at a time, then a lighter pass, and also a look to see if the back end of the work “fits” the front. Paper lets you physically go somewhere completely different to get a fresh look at things.

    It also helps to have a couple of trusted readers who will provide that outside view.

    Thanks for a terrific piece.

    1. Pauline Duncan-Thrasher says:

      When writing speeches I do speak the words aloud and often do heavy editing because the “sound” is so significant.
      Although my focus has been on non fiction writing and poetry I love David Soubly’s idea about doing a heavy paper edit and agree that moving from screen to paper gives a quite different perspective. To hone certain phrases I will walk outside or sit beside a tree along the pattern of Katie Kailus . Something about being outside helps the flow of phrases.

  9. Barbara J says:

    Great strategies for self editing!
    I will began using many of them immediately.
    Thanks for sharing them.

  10. Having my computer’s text-to-voice app read the story to me is a huge help. When reading it myself, I change the font style and bump the size up to 16 and change the background to red. This stops my brain from going on auto pilot and I catch the little errors (like in for on, or from instead of for).
    Thanks for the tips!

    1. Michael Gallant says:

      Thanks for the response! Interesting tips – I’ve never played with color or font size before, but I’ll definitely experiment. I have changed from, say, single spacing to 1.5 or double to try to achieve the same result though, and that’s worked for me. I look forward to giving your ideas a try…..

  11. Great article and comments. Thank you.

    1. Michael Gallant says:

      Thanks for reading and for the kind words!

  12. Lynne Spreen says:

    I upload it to my Kindle. Seeing it look like a book in my hand really gives me perspective.

  13. aliciaminor says:

    There are always new words, thoughts and approach that comes each moment of revision, something that sounds and reads better. The first draft lets you in the door of a better and well revised story. I let it sit and simmer for a while and if still I’m not satisfied, I pass it on to others for a set of fresh eyes. Revision is like a journey. The road is bumpy but one way or another you’ll get to your destination.

  14. Mike Vreeland says:

    Having spent many years as a middle school ELA teacher, I imagine reading my story or poem aloud to a class of my students. I can get a sense of what will engage them and what will be confusing or boring. They are tough critics! I also use the sleep on it before sending it suggestion. I always find some little bit I want to improve/correct. I’ll have to try some of the others.

  15. As a graphic designer, I rely so heavily on my own printer to proof everything. Even if the work is going to be online, still, I print it to proof it. As an author, I still rely on printing what I’ve written on 8 1/2 x 11″ paper and taking it to another room to read. I feels like I don’t really see it on the screen after awhile but on paper, in a different environment, it’s like seeing it with brand new eyes. Every time.

  16. RODGER BOLLES says:

    Paste the script into text in an e-mail. Check it with Grammerly for a quickie edit and send the message to yourself.

  17. Amanda Stone says:

    Useful suggestions here. I almost always “sleep on it”. My imagination often works better late at night, but sometimes too much as it gets a bit weird and exaggerated as well as tired and emotional. Posting anything after 11pm really is risky for me! (nearly there now!)

    I don’t do “read it aloud”, but will definitely try to build it into my editing routine now as I know it will highlight repetition and anything odd-sounding.

  18. Barry Begault says:

    Load it to a Kindle and let the kindle app read it back

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